4 Factors That Determine Successful Blending in Food Processing
Mike Weinhold, Aug 12, 2022 10:33:00 AM
A homogenized food blend doesn’t happen by chance; nor is it the result of one food blending process “magic bullet” that universally perfects food blends.
Successful blending in food processing brings together a number of factors that, when properly applied and managed by a trusted toll processor, deliver consistent outcomes.
Let’s take a closer look at these key factors, how they influence the food blending process, and the blending challenges customers can overcome with help from a toll processor with proven capabilities in the food industry.
1. Food Blending Opportunities and Challenges
When blending food, homogeneity is always the goal. Food processors must control every aspect of production and the related operational complexities to overcome food blending challenges. Any misstep causes ripple effects that can compromise both food blending process efficiency and end-product quality.
Blending can be done in a few ways, each with its own strengths and weaknesses.
Combining dry ingredients to a precise ratio ensures consistency — the ultimate goal of blending. Additional capabilities related to dry blending may include spraying to encapsulate a dry material with a liquid, such as a defoamer sprayed on a carbonated beverage ingredient.
The challenge in dry blending is the potentially adverse effects of blender ribbon agitation, specifically:
- Attrition: Particle size reduction and unintended particle size distribution changes; attrition results from dry blending, but in much lower proportion as compared to that which occurs in milling
- Heat: Agglomeration, or compact clumping, can alter a particle’s characteristics; some complex blending projects require a PLC-driven thermal heat transfer system to drive off moisture
Food-grade liquid blending incorporates liquid or dry materials into a liquid slurry until the materials are consistently blended. Programmable logic controls allow the process to be monitored using data collected from critical control points.
Viscosity is the biggest challenge in liquid blending. The slurry’s consistency can get thick or sticky due to internal friction caused by too much energy (agitation) being added into the blend. To compensate, adding a more viscous liquid to one that’s less viscous can help it perform better; doing the opposite — dispersing a low-viscosity liquid into a high-viscosity fluid — can be very difficult.
Taking a dry powder and properly dispersing it into a liquid carrier (water, oil, etc.) isn’t a simple task. Sometimes, a high-shear mixer is required to disperse particles in the fluid to resist sedimentation, exhibit high stability, and extend shelf-life.
And with all other blending methods, it takes a toll processor with expertise in blending food to determine the right equipment and approach to optimize a liquid dispersion formula.
2. Blending Equipment Selection and Its Impact on Scalability
A product’s physical attributes determine the type of food blending equipment used, and how well that equipment achieves the exact blend. Blender options include double ribbon, paddle, continuous, tumble, and vertical cone.
Proper blender selection results in precise, quick ingredient combination and alignment with scalability. There are three typical blending run sizes, from small to large:
- Feasibility: Ribbon blenders handle small amounts of material well, which may be the only quantity available to determine a correct blend. Blending of this size is perfect for start-ups and research projects.
- Pilot: A medium-size trial, the goal of pilot blending’s small-scale runs is to produce samples that the customer is expecting before scaling up to larger, commercial units.
- Production: A production trial helps tie up any outstanding issues or concerns before ramping up to full commercialization. Sometimes, tight project deadlines warrant skipping a production trial and going straight to full-scale production.
Not every toll processor can handle customers’ scalability needs. Having a single-source toll processor with the know-how to start small and ramp up to full production adds value to the relationship and typically speeds up time to market.
3. Ingredient Characteristics: Managing Issues and Customer Expectations
The characteristics of some ingredients pose unique challenges for blending food:
- Temperature-Sensitive Ingredients: Mostly occurring in dry blending, some temperature-sensitive ingredients can cause agglomeration issues in the blend instead of producing a free-flowing powder.
To mitigate impact, inserting an in-line screen at the end of the blender can often remove minor agglomeration that occurs within the blend. Likewise, adding a small amount of flow agent or anti-caking agent in the blend can stop particles from sticking to each other.
- Friability: Some solid particles break into smaller pieces easier than others. For instance, when loading material into a blender, the screw on the hopper can unintentionally break down easily friable particles. The blender’s ribbons can also cause particle attrition.
Customers' needs can affect the food blending process.
Being flexible may be a toll processor’s greatest advantage in serving customers ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500 organizations. A toll processor may simply be asked to perform a task, or could be looked to for guidance to fulfill a company’s vision. Similarly, a toll processor that may not have certain capabilities in-house can still bring a project to fruition using strategic partners to get it done.
Some toll processors have the ability to customize the blending process to meet specific customer needs. For instance, milling may be needed before or after blending, and having those technologies side-by-side can help increase efficiency.
So, too, is the case for on-time availability of blended food products. Deliveries that meet customers’ expectations and lead times are paramount. When a toll processor is able to uphold promised dates, it generally translates to a competitive advantage.
Having packaging options available can also signal a toll processor that’s willing to truly partner with customers and meet their needs. Packing out in the largest package possible may be the most efficient method for the toll processor, but if the blended product needs to be shipped in pails or even 12-ounce bottles, it eliminates an extra step for the customer and saves significant dollars.
4. Regulatory Compliance for Food Grade Processing
It takes a superior understanding of safety regulations to succeed in food blending. Let’s cover the two most important: cGMP and FSSC 22000.
Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP)
Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) is a set of quality assurance principles and procedures that prevents contamination, promotes food blending repeatability, and helps ensure a safe and quality process. Established by the FDA, cGMP standards are especially vital for businesses in heavily regulated industries such as food, dietary supplements, and pharmaceuticals.
Because there are so many ways to put safety practices into place when manufacturing food, cGMP offers FDA compliance guidelines to follow. For every product, however, a hazard analysis must be completed to ensure the product is safe for consumers.
Food Safety System Certification (FSSC) 22000
A GFSI-recognized food safety certification, FSSC 22000 is a statement to customers that a company’s multi-level food safety program is trustworthy and follows rigorous standards to manage food safety risks and provide safe products.
This is the proper place to discuss cleanliness. Toll processors are, by nature, obsessed with cleanliness. A well-prepared food blending environment includes equipment sterilization (both microbiological and from previous materials) and a clean room with sanitized surfaces.
Adhering to regulations such as those mapped out by FSSC 22000 controls every step of manufacturing operations so processing facility cleanliness and food product quality are consistently maintained.
CPS offers complete solutions that encompass the keys to successful blending in food processing and ensure efficient operations. Our dedicated, 45,000 ft2 facility includes several customizable clean rooms, and a cGMP blending station and laboratory. Our proven capabilities help our customers lean into — and solve any food blending challenges.
Explore more about CPS mechanical, wet, and jet milling techniques for micronization and more in Milling Methods for Food and Pharmaceuticals. Click the button below to download your copy of this valuable guide now.